Hard to Describe
This tour had a lot of potential to be great. We left scratching our heads, and when we tell our story about the trip, most people say "well I hope you got a refund" but of course we did not; that is not how Iceland works. I mean arguably, two riders got a free trip back which was very gracious, but for us, it was like Balfour Castle revisited. We just don't know what to think! A few months later, our friend's friends went to the same farm and did a different trip which was a sheep roundup. According to them, they fell three times (the horse reared up), they got separated from the group for hours, they ended up with a horse they could not control, and something went wrong where they were on the same horse for 13 hours one day. Since after I provided feedback, someone else had problems, I just cannot recommend trips to this farm. It was incredibly expensive and I wish I had spent my thousands of dollars elsewhere. Overall, I did not enjoy this trip. I have been to four other riding tours in Iceland, one in the US, and one in Ireland. This was nothing like the others.
If I were to make a list of suggestions for anyone wishing to go on this trip, it would be the following:
- Buy the bug net for your head at the welcome dinner when they offer them for sale. Consider getting a spare.
- Practice calming down willful or panicked horses that want to run off and not do their job
- GoPro users: Bring 3 extra extended batteries and 4 batteries minimum for your GoPro and 3-4 disks. Change the battery and disk at lunch / mid-way through the day. Bring a laptop or other drive to copy info on to. Bring your charger in your overnight bag with a power adapter. Get the remote control to turn the GoPro on and off. Bring a spare in case the first gets waterlogged. Bring a charger for the remote control in your overnight bag for the first night.
- Keep your cell phone in a waterproof bag.
- Pack a small duffel bag or backpack with overnight items for the first night, including toothbrush and toothpaste, nightwear, snacks for 2 days, and a small pillow.
- For the second night and third night, get a room very quickly if you are a couple, otherwise you may end up as an awkward threesome.
- Plan to attend the whale watch (additional cost).
- Do not bring a nice camera with zoom lenses on the whale watch. Everything gets soaking wet.
- Bring a second camera so if you get thrown and break the first one you still have another camera. (7 falls in 2 days with our group).
- When it comes to river crossings, do not steer your horse, let them choose their footing.
- When the horse comes to the other side of the river crossing, he will know what he can and cannot climb up for a bank so do not worry and let him choose his footing.
- When it comes to a web of ruts and grass tufts, let the horse choose the footing; do not oversteer.
The trip went from a Sunday to a Saturday with 5 days of scheduled riding. The advertisement mentioned Mývatn which is a place I wanted to ride through ever since I saw horses along the base of the black sand volcano cone we hiked up a few years back. When I look back at that page, I notice I did put a photo of the horses that day so it must have left an impression on me!
We flew a small plane for 55 minutes to northern Iceland. From there, we took bus ride for another hour. We arrived at a farm for lunch and then were told to pack a small bag for an overnight and the rest of our stuff should go in a separate vehicle to meet us for night 2. It was very confusing and we put the wrong bags in the wrong places at first and then we did not know what to bring for just one night. If you do this trip, come with an overnight bag packed before you even get on the plane.
We then took the bus for a ride to the horses and they started distributing rain gear, saddles, and nosebands. That took a while. Then we went to get horses. The entire time it was raining. I could not wait to just get riding!
The start was rough when the herd ran through us and some of the horses got excited. I am not exactly sure why the herd ran though us but I think we were in the grass along the side of the road and they were in the road and then they started to pass us and then were just everywhere. I had a horse that tolted very well and also seemed to stay calm with all of the activity around us. He was a really good horse and I was glad to have him to start the trip. It was about 40 degrees out (8 degrees C) and rainy. I did not mind the cold, but the rain made taking photographs a little difficult and one rider had an iPhone that just stopped working forever. I think for a trip like this, a waterproof case would be a good thing to have.
We switched horses part way through and I had another good horse. He was a little wilder, but tolted smoothly. I actually rode him with loose reigns. A lot of folks were fighting their horses with tight reigns but I hate that and was happy he tolted without me holding his head up. He had a canter that felt like he was trying to go very fast to catch up but it was not really not that fast which was really cute, and he was very easy to ride. As we came into the final resting place for the night, the herd plowed through us making for a very exciting ending. I wish I still have battery life on my GoPro as that would have been a great moment to capture. I recommend two charged extended batteries - at least - for a day of riding on this tour.
My dinner was a half of a can of baked beans and some boiled potatoes. I was really glad we brought some snacks with us for the overnight. The best part of the day was when the farmer took my husband and me out to the geothermal area to see the bubbling mud pots and the steam vents. He then brought us to a cave in the ground and told us ghost stories about Mori the ghost that his father said he saw once - and he had not been drinking. It was very interesting and I was glad we did this side trip, but when we got back everyone was already sleeping! I guess the excitement of the day made everyone very tired.
It was a long time to get started the second morning. It was cold and raining. We had 17 people signed up for the trip as well as the farmer, guide, and two assistants. I do not know exactly how long it took, but I went to the outhouse 3 times while waiting so it must have been quite some time. I got a horse but really struggled with him before we left. I had a hard time reaching the stirrups, he was very bouncy, and he kept kicking and hopping and charging forward. I did all I could to relax my legs and communicate relaxation to him, but I really struggled with balance. I did mention the problem, but they did say we would change horses later in the day. The next few hours I spent bouncing in a trot without stirrups. I just could not get a tolt, but maybe if I could get my stirrups I could have used them to push myself back. After a while my saddle started rotating from side to side. It was loose. I could not even get a free hand to turn my GoPro off so I have a lot of footage of up/down/up/down/up/down really fast. It's actually kind of funny to see. I finally got the guide to stop but my horse did not want to stop and tried to walk through the poor guide and when I tried to get off he reared up and that made the other horse rear up and I felt pretty bad.
We adjusted my saddle and we got back on. One thing happened after another and the guide's horse tried several times to throw him before he succeeded and then ran off at full speed. We rode to the rest of the group to tell them what happened but of course the loose horse got to them first and just kept going. When we arrived, another woman had been thrown and lost her horse at some point, so we walked the rest of the way to the farmer and the herd. When we got to the herd, I got a new horse. All was well! It was a long break because someone had to go back for the guide with a spare horse so he could catch up with us. The horses kept trying to steal our apple which was very cute.
We rode for a while and the herd continued to plow through us and run aside us. We eventually got off our horses to walk down hill into the valley. At first walking was optional if you were afraid your horse would run down the hill after the herd, but when we got there after so many falls, we all got off and walked. At the bottom we crossed a river. One poor girl fell off in the water but the farmer helped her back on. The woman next to me got nervous at the end and wanted to know where to lead her horse when we got to the bank. I told her "Just let your horse pick where he wants to climb the bank" because when it comes to river crossings, I let the horse do whatever he needs to do and I take charge once we are out of the water and back on shore.
We ended the day by staying at a public pool that had private quarters attached. If you do this trip, get your room early because nothing is assigned. There are two-person bedrooms and three-person bedrooms. We got our room late because Bill was so kind as to help everyone with their bags, and we ended up with a three person bedroom. This can be awkward since some poor woman has to share a room with a married couple, one of which is a man. Just get there early to avoid anything awkward.
The dinner was very good with crab cakes and chopped veggies. The guide brought a keyboard to play and we sang songs and laughed a lot. It was a better mood than the last night, maybe because everyone had caught up with sleep!
This was a short day for us. We enjoyed a side trip to Mývatn and the hot spring. I had hoped the tour would ride horses through Mývatn, but it actually you just ride a bus through here. We had been to both places before as tourists but had hoped to return as riders. Maybe another time! When we went to the hot spring, instead of bathing we decided to eat an early lunch. It was ungodly expensive but ended up being the best idea we had the whole trip because little did we know it would be the last time we had access to food until the next day at breakfast.
Then it was time to ride. We rode for about 5 minutes before Bill was thrown from his horse. Another rider who had that horse on day 1 warned him about the horse which was already not a good sign. I went up to Bill who was now standing a ditch and he said he was fine and to keep going, so I continued on. We were behind the herd but at a quick pace. I was very comfortable on my horse and was riding pretty solid. After the fiasco from yesterday, I got to ride my horse from the first day. I figured they probably thought I was a bad rider (maybe I am!) and needed this one horse, but hey, I had a private horse now!
We made it another 5 minutes down the road before the horse next to me went down with a huge thud. The road washed out under the horse and made a hole and the horse fell. It was just a freak accident. The horse hobbled off and I dismounted, handed my horse to another rider, and ran over to the fallen rider who was on her side having seizures from a minor brain injury. We had been Wilderness First Responders (WFRs) and when I assessed the scene, I knew at that second that our vacation was over. The rider was unconscious with seizures so I knew her head hit very hard, and then when the seizures stopped it took a while to get a response. It is a normal thing to happen with a concussion, but can be scary to experience. There was also a lot of blood. Another rider flagged down a car for a cell phone but there was no reception. We asked if the rider could drive us to the hospital. By this time the guide caught up (he had stopped for my husband who was in a ditch), the fallen rider was coming to. A few minutes later, Bill showed up because he was walking along the road hoping to eventually get his horse back. That horse was long gone. I volunteered poor Bill to join me in the car to help with the rider who was in and out of consciousness and just bleeding everywhere.
To make a long story short, the first hospital ended up being a long drive, but we finally got the injured rider into the emergency room. This hospital did not have x-ray or CT Scan so we rode in the ambulance with the rider to a second hospital. I made the poor EMT wash the dried blood off of one side of her face during the ride. Once we got to the second hospital, I filled out form after form while Bill tried to make contact with the tour company to no avail. The hospital was under construction and the wifi was not allowing us to get emails for help out. I was pretty sure no one knew where we were unless they called the first hospital and the first hospital told them we transferred but since we did not get any calls while at the hospital that seemed unlikely.
Around 9pm, the injured rider was all stitched up, and she went to sleep and we were left with our bloody clothes in garbage bags and no clue as to what happens next. We did not know if we should get a hotel room or find a dinner or what. Finally a woman at the hospital got us in touch with the farmer who passed us to the guide who was very surprised to hear we were in a different city. I could hear the other riders laughing and chatting in the background and it sounded like they had had a fun day. I asked him if someone could come get us and bring the injured rider's sister. He said they would be on their way shortly but they just got off their horses and were getting on the bus to go back to the farm. I guess it was a long day!
Our ride arrived! The farmer borrowed a car and brought the sister of the fallen rider to the hospital with all of the insurance information the hospital kept asking me for. After they visited with the injured rider for a while, he took us to his car and we started to drive back. This is where the story just becomes unbelievable, but the car just stopped working. Yes. The engine shut off. After my husband looked in a manual that was in Icelandic - yeah - and the guys pushed buttons, the car started again. We made it a mile and the engine shut off again. The farmer tried to make a call but we did not get reception there. I figured at this point it was going to be a while before we made it to the farm. The car actually broke down 4 times before a man came and something happened in Icelandic and we ended up getting in his car, and I was embarrassed but we had these clear garbage bags with bloody clothes in them and a broken riding helmet. We took everything with us. I don't know what he must have thought! He dropped us off at the farm and the farmer showed us to our room and we went in to lay down and I just cried. The emotional impact was a little unexpected. I just could not face the next step of washing the blood off our riding gear at 3am. I was done.
We napped until breakfast and one of the girls on the trip was in touch with the sister at the hospital and had been showing everyone photos of the injured rider in the hospital so everyone was up to date before we even arrived for breakfast. We were exhausted physically, and emotionally I was still not doing well. All the training in the world as a WFR does not really make one immune to the stress and upset after the fact.
We joined the group to visit a waterfall which was nice, but we were sleep-walking the trip. When it was time to ride, the grandfather drove us back to the farm so we could catch up on sleep and wash the blood off of our riding clothes for the next day. It was a long trip home because he had to grocery shop and then wash the van so we helped with the chores and on the way back grandpa stopped at a rest stop so we could see puffins swimming in the ocean and he could chew tobacco. Everyone was happy. When we got back to the farm we went to sleep right away, but I had dreams of having seizures and did not sleep well. I finally got up and started washing our clothes. When I was done, the injured rider and her sister arrived after being dropped off at the sleeping cabins but they did not have a room and all of the rooms were taken. I felt terrible and told them they could also use our room since we had an extra bunk and Bill and I could share a bed but it is awkward for a 19 year old and a 17 year old girl to share a room with a married man. They just went into someone else's room to rest up.
That night we did a lot of singing after dinner which was fun.
We got to ride this day. Everyone got to pick their favorite horse as long as someone else did not pick the same horse. I had my favorite horse (Walli) again and Bill had a new horse he had never ridden before. We rode without the herd and walked along a canyon which was pretty. It was very easy riding. We ended up at an old farm house and there was soda and snacks waiting for us. You have no idea how excited people were to see soda! We had been drinking water all week. Junk food was very exciting!
When we got back to the farm we had a big dinner. The guide announced that the injured rider and her sister would receive a free trip back to the farm in 2016. That was very nice of them. I helped the guide with the accident report so everything would be all set, and we went to sleep for our last night at the farm.
On our last day, there was no riding. We went on an optional whale watching boat ride (additional cost) and then a final group lunch (additional cost). The whale watching was fantastic and the lunch was also excellent. We had some rainy weather and the plane could not fly into our airport so we went to another city to take a plane from there. It worked out very nicely and we all ended back home safe and sound. We were a little surprised that no one from the main office thanked us for going with the injured rider rather than putting her in a stranger's car and waving good-bye, but that did not seem to happen. It was like the main office had no idea an accident occurred or that they thought us idiots to leave the trip optionally. It was rather uncomfortable. I asked later if they were mad at us for doing that and they said they were not.
That evening, we went to dinner with four other people from the trip at a really beautiful restaurant on the harbor. It was a nice ending to a rough week and we were glad to get to bed knowing that tomorrow we would return to The Trail of Hope and all would be well.